New device improves Parkinson’s symptoms

Researchers have shown that an ‘easy to use’ portable stimulation headset  may be able to reduce both motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s.

The results from researchers at the University of Kent, published in the journal Parkinsonism and related disorders, highlight the potential of a new painless and non-invasive electrical stimulation device that can be used at home to improve Parkinson’s symptoms.

About the device

The device works by gently stimulating a nerve in the ear using earpieces in a headset. The technique, called vestibular stimulation, has previously been investigated in a single case study in Parkinson’s.

In this new study, vestibular stimulation was tested in a double-blind trial in a group of 33 people with Parkinson's, where participants self-administered the active treatment or a placebo twice a day over 2 months.

Participants were assessed up to 6 months after using the device and significant improvements were seen in a variety of symptoms - including mobility and decision making - and in quality of life ratings in those receiving the active treatment. Encouragingly, the improvements were seen up to 5 weeks after the end of treatment.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s has over 40 symptoms associated with the condition and everyone’s experience will be different. The most common are motor symptoms such as tremor and rigidity but there are also a variety of non-motor symptoms such as problems sleeping to lack of motivation. 

There is a need for more research to find better treatments to help manage symptoms and improve life now.

A way to manage symptoms

Previous work from these researchers showed that stimulating the inner ear improved neurological symptoms associated with stroke and traumatic brain injury. This research now shows that ear stimulation has potential in the management of Parkinson’s. 

Dr Beckie Port, Research Manager at Parkinson's UK, said: 

“The results from this small scale study are very exciting. While more research is needed to better understand how delivering this kind of non-invasive stimulation to the nerve in the ear works, it holds a lot of promise to relieve troublesome symptoms that many with Parkinson's experience.

"Existing Parkinson's medications are far from perfect. They cannot slow the progression of the condition and often have significant side effects themselves. Pioneering research like this gives us the best hope of finding the breakthrough that will allow us to better manage symptoms and make a life-changing difference to people living with Parkinson’s."

Interested in taking part in research?

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Research ranges from at home questionnaires to trialling new treatments.  Whatever you're ready for, you can make a difference by taking part.